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HLB sets sights on Malaysia’s startups

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After more than a decade of working to achieve big things in Malaysia, Hong Leong Bank is increasingly thinking small as it steers its business towards supporting startups.

Hong Leong Bank, one of Malaysia’s most celebrated financial names, has been doing its part to create more zing in southeast Asia’s fifth-biggest economy from the ground up, while cultivating a new generation of customers for itself. Its latest pivot? To the country's army of startups.

“We’re making a point to finance and make a difference for SMEs in business for just six to 12 months,” Domenic Fuda, HLB’s Italian-Australian chief executive, tells Asiamoney. “Five years ago, we wouldn’t have touched them if they could not give us three years’ worth of documents and financials. So we’re going more toward the startup scene to help fuel that kind of growth.”

Malaysia needs that kind of thinking: it trails Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam when it comes to creating unicorn startups valued at $1 billion or more. And HLB’s investment in tech has helped pave the way.

Well before the arrival of Covid-19 in 2020, HLB had adopted a “digital-at-the-core” ethos.

“Across retail and business banking, digitalizing our bank, raising our customers’ and colleagues’ digital engagement, remains our top priority,” Fuda says. “The pandemic wasn’t a catalyst for us, but instead, it was an affirmation and an unmistakable proof-point that digital has forever transformed the business model.”